Monday 11 December 2017

Manchester United still in race for top four, says Jesse Lingard

Jesse Lingard, right, helped Manchester United to victory at Celta Vigo on Thursday
Jesse Lingard, right, helped Manchester United to victory at Celta Vigo on Thursday

Jesse Lingard accepts Manchester United's trip to Arsenal is a must-win match in the top-four race.

Promise has been intertwined with disappointment in Jose Mourinho's first season in the Old Trafford hotseat, with impressive cup displays tempered by Premier League frustrations.

United are in the midst of a 25-match unbeaten top-flight run - a club record within a single season - but their propensity to draw matches has left them a point off a Champions League berth rather than challenging for the title.

The Red Devils have four tough fixtures remaining as they try and sneak into the top four, starting with a trip to Arsenal in which Mourinho intends to rest some players, with the second leg of their Europa League semi-final against Celta Vigo in mind.

The Portuguese believes drawing at home to Swansea last weekend meant they blew their "last chance" to break into the Champions League places , but Lingard suggests the manager is displaying a different attitude within the dressing room despite their precarious position.

Asked if the trip to Arsenal is must win, the England international said: "Yeah, I think so.

"We have got to keep the pressure on the top four, we're not out of it yet. We have got the belief and the manager believes in us to get there.

"I think from now until the end of the season every game is big. We've got to treat them like finals.

"We've got to win the games and hopefully we beat Arsenal and can concentrate on the next game."

Mourinho plans to rest those players leaned on heavily in recent weeks, meaning Thursday's match-winner Marcus Rashford could well be given some much-needed downtime.

The 19-year-old has stepped up in the absence of injured top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with his rise showing no signs of abating given the improvements in his overall game.

Mourinho revealed Rashford played from the outset in Spain with a slight injury, having walked off gingerly towards the end - not that it prevented him running the hosts ragged and scoring a free-kick David Beckham would have been proud of.

"He can handle the pressure," Lingard said of his team-mate and close friend after the 1-0 win.

"He's been about long enough now to handle the pressure.

"He's scored major goals for United and again he's got the important goal. He's still going. He's going to fill out even more.

"His knowledge of the game, his game intelligence will continue to grow and he'll keep learning and go from there.

"Of late he's been put on set-pieces and his corner delivery and free-kicks have been excellent. Close to goal he's got a real chance of scoring."

Onlookers joined Rashford's team-mates and manager in praising the match-winning display, but just days earlier the teenager was in the unusual position of dealing with criticism after appearing to dive to win a penalty against Swansea.

"It's part and parcel of football," Lingard said. "He's going to learn. People are always going to have an opinion.

"You've just got to focus on the next game and he's bounced back with that goal."

The away goal in Galicia could prove crucial as United bid to make it to the Europa League final in Stockholm.

The competition not only offers a historic trophy but qualification to the Champions League should they miss out on the top four, offering them a timely return to European football's top table.

"It's important (to get back)," Lingard added. "The Champions League is the best competition in Europe.

"Unfortunately we've been in the Europa League this year but hopefully we get to the final.

"The Champions League is massive and United should be there.

"It's unfortunate we're in this competition this year but week in, week out we've given 100 per cent in the Europa League."

Press Association

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